I read this week that Atlantic Sapphire has announced plans to increase the planned output from their Miami RAS (Recirculating Aquaculture System) farm to 220,000 tons of salmon annually by 2030. Wow! That’s a lot of salmon- more than half of the total US consumption today! Plans for large-scale, land-based RAS salmon farms have also been announced by Nordic Aquafarms, Whole Ocean, Palom, Pure Salmon, and Aquabanc. These RAS farms are significant investments and will take years to come on-line and produce fish. When they do, they are going to have a dramatic impact on the aquaculture industry in the US and elsewhere. Who would have thought we would be growing more salmon on land than in the ocean?
So why is there so much momentum in RAS farming? There are environmental stewardship considerations of course. Also, RAS farms hold the promise of eliminating some diseases (i.e. sea-lice) and therefore reducing antibiotic use. RAS farming also gets around climate-driven production issues including rising water temperatures and algal blooms, and as we have recently seen, these can have a devastating impact on fish populations. Another driver for RAS farms in the US is that America’s regulatory environment is simply not very supportive of ocean-based aquafarms. Ideally, you should be able to go to one organization or government agency, make your case to get an aquafarm permit, and get a ‘yes or no’ response. The reality today is that you need to go through federal, state, and even local approval processes, and then face expensive legal costs dealing with highly-litigious special interest groups. The result- if you are lucky you can face a decade or more of frustration before you can start operating.
So what does RAS farming have to do with a KnipBio? As it turns out, a lot. I witnessed some early construction work at Atlantic Sapphire’s “Blue House” this past December while attending the Freshwater Institute meeting in Miami. A host of technical challenges regarding RAS were discussed, including issues around fecal waste. Putting it a little crudely, dealing with all that fish poop is a significant problem in a RAS farm. In the wild or in open-ocean aquaculture, large ocean volumes and strong tides and current keeps the water moving so ‘poop-lution’ conditions are relatively minor. (The fecal matter potentially accumulating at the bottom of the water column is a separate issue).
A RAS production farm is a different story- the water is recirculated, i.e. reused again and again, so the waste has to be constantly removed or the fish are literally living in their own… well, you get the picture. Most water filtration systems are pretty good at filtering out large particles but not nearly so good at removing soluble particulate matter. Unfortunately, low-cost plant-based aquafeed diets can give carnivorous salmon the aquatic equivalent of the ‘runs’. This increases the waste in suspension that is difficult/expensive to filter out and can potentially negatively affect product quality. Filters get clogged as well, resulting in high maintenance expenses.
Several of the major large feed companies at the Freshwater Institute conference said they are researching how to change their salmon feed formula to produce ‘clumpier’ waste that is easier to filter. There is even a scientific phrase for this characteristic- ‘fecal turgidity’. In addtiion to its other qualities- high protein concentration, health-promoting prebiotics and carotenoids, KnipBio’s single cell protein (SCP) ingredient, KnipBio Meal (KBM) shines as a RAS feed. Fish fed a diet where just 5% of the plant protein is replaced with KBM have significantly cleaner and more solid discharges- in other words, higher fecal turgidity. These bigger waste particles make filtration easier and less expensive. And, based on a relatively small data set, a consensus seems to suggest our feed also makes for better tasting fish. That’s going to be really important, because at the end of the day feed performance has to include helping create a great tasting product if we are going to be able to sell all of that RAS salmon in the coming years.